There have been twenty Super Bowls in my life, and I have almost certainly watched all of them. I have no recollection of the first one, Super Bowl XXXI, but there is pictorial evidence of me, as an infant, sitting with my dad watching the Packers and Patriots battle it out.
Of course the Patriots were in that game. Was there ever a time in my life on this Earth when that Goddamn team wasn’t successful?
It’s only fitting that eight years later I would be watching the Patriots again. Super Bowl XXXIX, that fateful Sunday in February of 2005 when my eight year old innocence was crushed, and I quickly learned that the world is a cruel place, and that we’ll all die one day. My parents never had to explain any of these hard truths to me. I watched them on the screen.
The 2004-05 Eagles were incredible. There was no better team for a second grader to follow, and follow I did, consuming every single second of Eagles football that season. Every McNabb to Owens bomb. Every crushing Dawkins hit. Every Runyan block (alright, maybe that’s a stretch, but let’s show some respect to the former Congressman).
On Halloween, when the Eagles beat the Ravens to start the season 7-0 for the first time in franchise history, I was there. It was my first Eagles game, and my dad and his brothers — Philly sports has always been a family thing — introduced me to a sacred ritual, a sort of second baptism. We stopped by the Wawa, and then went down to the Linc. If you’re from where I’m from, you may never see a more beautiful sentence as that one.
The Eagles won, and the kind folks sitting around me in section 235 added more than a few words to my vocabulary that I was explicitly warned not to share with my friends at school. One guy felt so bad for cursing around me he went and bought me a hot dog. Another gave me his hat. I didn’t really need it since by this time my dad had his hands clasped firmly around my ears, but I appreciated the gesture.
In that year’s NFC Championship the Eagles beat the Falcons. A blizzard had just hit the Philadelphia area, and there must have been a foot and a half of snow outside. The team had to hire random Philadelphians to come shovel out the stadium, and the Philly faithful gladly showed up.
The Eagles won, and my mom let me run shoeless around in the snow in celebration. On a school night. That’s how big of a deal this was.
No team in Philly had won a championship since 1983, and the sports crazed city was going to insane lengths trying to explain this. The Eagles were 72 years old, and had never won a Super Bowl. This was incredibly demoralizing, especially given how close they had come of late. The team was coming off three straight losses in the NFC Championship, so when they finally beat the Falcons to make it to the big game, the next game seemed like a given. At that point, nothing could beat them.
That is, except Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They beat the Eagles by a field goal. It was their third in four years, and one of many for that team. Like I said, the world is a cruel place.
My family had a watch party at our house that year; everyone wanted to be around their loved ones when the Eagles finally did it. And so there I was, surrounded by cousins, uncles, grandparents, an army of Irish last names clad in green, white, and black, when the game clock expired. I began to cry, sick to my stomach (a common theme for the Eagles that night).
There, tears running down my cheeks, I made a promise to myself. I would grow up and lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl where I would beat the evil empire of Brady and Belichick. I had to.
A lot happened in the 12 years that followed. Andy Reid never learned clock management, and my NFL plans were sidelined, mostly by an athleticism akin to that of the aforementioned coach. Some things didn’t change, though. Brady and Belichick continued to win. Over a decade later, the duo is still in the Super Bowl, and I am almost at the point in my life where I’m willing to admit that I will never be a professional quarterback.
All hope is not lost, however. I may not be leading the opposition, but Matt Ryan is, and that’s basically the same.
Matt (I can call him that) and I are just two Irish Catholic kids from the suburbs of Philadelphia. We both left to rival cities to go to Jesuit colleges. I grew up playing CYO sports with his cousins, and I’ll be damned if anyone can find a stronger connection than that in this world.
So, when the Falcons take the field on Sunday, looking to win the first Super Bowl in team history, I’m sure Matt Ryan will be lacing up the cleats for the city, his teammates, his family, and all that. But, whether he knows it or not, he’s also going out there for second grade me. #RiseUp.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons